In 2012, there was a lot of great racing among the EARC heavyweight crews, and many coaches made reference to the great parity among the EARC teams this year. Even with parity however, a familiar squad leads the pack, at least on paper: going into Sunday's Sprints, Harvard once again are the seeded favorites in the marquee events (V8, 2V8, F8), and are seeded second in the 3V and 2F.
The Harvard V8 has enjoyed a stellar run this season, going all the way back to their Champ 8 win at Head of the Charles this past October. The Crimson won the San Diego Crew Classic by about a length from Cal, and are undefeated during their regular season, even if they've not been completely dominant: Northeastern and Navy were within a length of Harvard, but perhaps the sternest challenge for the crew will come from Brown, who were a mere .6 behind Harvard on April 7th and are seeded #2 going into Sprints.
"I've really enjoyed working with the team at Brown this year," said Bruno Head Coach Paul Cooke. "The athletes have kept their heads despite a few setbacks and through close racing. They have gained some experience and some resolve and I hope so see that the reflected in their performance at Sprints."
Navy, Wisconsin and Cornell are the big three in pursuit, and all three crews have shown good results this season; the Navy heavies have only one loss in the regular season (to Harvard), and were third behind Harvard and Cal at the Crew Classic. "There remains work to be done and we are attempting to improve on a weekly basis," said Navy's Rick Clothier. "The continuation of this improvement during this week and the actual competition is a highly held goal for our crews. We are in exams and focus/time always creates some issues during the lead-up to Sprints."
Wisconsin owns continent-spanning close wins over Stanford and BU & Dartmouth, and looks to be dangerous. Cornell at #5 has a close loss to Navy and a solid win over Princeton and Yale in their pocket heading into Sprints. "Cornell's season has started slow and been gaining momentum," said Head Coach Todd Kennett. "Our goal for the sprints is to see our boats race to their potential and obtain the boat speed they are capable of, and hopefully this enables them to get onto the medals dock."
An early highlight of Sprints racing will take place right in the heat, where #1 Harvard will face off against #6 Northeastern and #7 Princeton. Northeastern, as we mentioned, was close to Harvard late in the season, while Princeton, with a very young crew, will surely go for broke to win a spot in the Grand Final; of the six boats in the heat, only two will advance to the Grand.
"Last year, we graduated six of the nine from our varsity. This year, we have been working hard to develop the younger guys so that they can fill new roles," said Princeton Head Coach Greg Hughes. "We've had some good races, and some races that have taught us a few lessons that we needed to learn. We have been working hard over the last few weeks to put those lessons to use as we prepare for the Sprints."
Alongside these seven crews, Syracuse, BU and Yale will all be battling for spots in the Grand. With a nod to parity, it's worth noting that #10 seed Yale owns an early season, 5-seat win over #2 seed Brown.
"It is going to be a very exciting championship, there certainly are not a lot of easy races in our league anymore," said Syracuse Head Coach Dave Reischman. "I think there are a lot more programs working the recruiting trail very hard and this has led to a dispersal of the talent in the middle ranks. On top of that I think we have a group of really good coaches that know how to maximize their talent. Maybe a couple of schools have separated themselves from the pack but after that a crew could finish 3rd on a good day or be in the 3rd Level final on a bad day or if the wind blows the wrong way."
Of note is that only the top nine finishers in the V8 at the Eastern Sprints are guaranteed an entry at the IRA; all crews finishing lower than 9th at Sprints will need to hope for an at-large bid.
In the JV Eight, Harvard has been similarly dominant. After a close 2nd to Cal at Crew Classic, the Harvard Jayvees have run the table during their regular season, a three-seat margin being their only really close contest. That said, the field in the JV is likely the closest field at Sprints, and promises incredible racing.
The Wisconsin JV will aim to make things interesting; seeded #2 at Sprints, the Badgers beat the Cal JV two weeks after the Crew Classic on their West Coast swing. The Cornell JV at #3 owns an open-water win over the #5 Navy JV who made life difficult for Harvard, while Princeton, at #4 in the final poll has raced solidly throughout the season.
How tight is this field? Strictly numerically, the Syracuse and Brown JVs are tied in the final poll, with Syracuse getting the tiebreak on a closer margin to Princeton. Fairly enough, the two tied crews will get a chance to settle things in the morning at Worcester, with both racing in the 1-6-7 heat with Harvard. Look out!
The one truly dominant crew among the EARC heavies this year has been, seemingly once again, the Harvard Freshman; no crew has been within 6 seconds of the Crimson Frosh this year. The following pack is led by the Cornell frosh, who are undefeated save for an early season loss to Harvard.
Like Cornell, the Northeastern frosh have lost only to Harvard this season and will look to figure in the medals picture on Sunday. Yale, Wisconsin, Princeton, BU and Navy make up the balance of potential finalists.
"On all levels, it looks like the battle for spots in the finals will be fierce," said Princeton's Hughes. "It's impressive to see so many crews in contention and it's great for the sport of men's rowing."
There is plenty of lower boat action happening across the schedule at Sprints; the day kicks off with the Freshman and Open Fours Grand Finals. An all-comers race in the 4V sees Brown, Harvard, Navy (Heavies) and Navy (Lights) going for Gold, also in the AM.
Brown, Harvard, Navy and Wisconsin lead a field of eight crews racing to qualify for the 3V Grand Final in the afternoon, while the Grand of the 2F heavies in the early afternoon sees Navy, Harvard, Wisconsin, Cornell and Penn racing for hardware.